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Interview: Texan powerhouse Mike Ryan talks new album, ‘Longcut’ & career evolution

It’s time to sit up and take notice of this talented Texan artist.

Mike Ryan
Credit: Nate Stibolt

Texan artist Mike Ryan is the name on everyone’s lips right now. A powerful new album, ‘Longcut’ and an Opry debut has meant that the last couple of months have been good ones for this hard-working and talented writer who is already bringing a multitude of streams and number ones at Texas radio to the party. His mix of Country, Rock and Americana has been honed and finessed this time around by the skilled pens of writers like Brandy Clark and Hillary Lindsey and with artists such as Parker McCollum and Cody Johnson beginning to make major Texan waves amongst the stations and the labels in Nashville we think Ryan might well be the next artist to follow suit. We were thrilled to grab some time with him recently to take all about it.

Lovely to speak to you today, Mike, thank you for your time as we know you are a busy guy. Conragtulations on ‘Longcut’, your Opry debut and making your stadium debut supporting Morgan Wallen too! Are you getting chance to soak all these things in or is life a bit of blur right now?

I certainly am trying to make an effort to soak all this in! (laughing) There have been a lot of career milestones this year and I have made a point to try and absorb all I can and appreciate the moments as they happen. Some of these things happen pretty quick and it’s quite hard to grasp it in the actual moment but I’ve tried to be present and be aware, it’s certainly been a good few months for me!

One of the songs you played at the Opry was ‘Dear Country Music’, which is a fabulous song. Tell me what inspired you to write that song?

Country music has been there for me my whole life. I didn’t necessarily know I wanted to play Country music from a young age but I figured out what it meant to me from young age.

I was fortunate enough to be in the room to help write ‘Dear Country Music’ (alongside Lynn Hutton and Jameson Rodgers) and it was a song that we wanted to write to show how much the genre meant to us. As soon as we finished writing it it was one that I was very proud of and I don’t think there’s been a setlist of mine since that it hasn’t been on.

That song and ‘Ghost Town’ came out just before the pandemic but you chose to leave them off new album, ‘Longcut’. Is that because you just wanted to keep them separate and let them stand on their own?

We were getting ready to release ‘Longcut’, or at least the version of what it was back then in 2020 but it wasn’t necessarily called ‘Longcut’ yet. Most of the songs were done and then the pandemic hit and so we decided to re-group.

By the time we were ready to put an album out this year we’d recorded a few more songs and both ‘Ghost Town’ and ‘Dear Country Music’ had been out for quite a while by then. We had lots of new songs and had taken the long way around to get to where we were ready to release an album, hence the title! (laughing)

‘Longcut’ seems to be a next-level evolution for you. Did you realise you were onto something special when you were putting it together?

You know, it’s hard to say because you are so deep in the making of the record you are almost too close so you need to wait until everyone has had a chance to listen to it. I did feel like there was a new kind of magic happening whilst we were making it. I used a couple of different producers this time (Bart Butler) and that brought a new kind of energy to the studio, which was exciting.

I felt like some of Bart directions, ideas and arrangements brought something really special to the project. We wouldn’t have gotten to where we did on this record without his input and advice.

You also took in some outside cuts and used some interesting co-writers this time around as well. Was that Bart’s influence as well?

Bart did have an influence on that as well, yeah. Obviously he works with a bunch of different folks around Nashville and has a lot of friends and connections. He knew what my sound and style was like and he picked a few songs that he thought would work well for me. He brought in ‘Loser’ and ‘Get Away with Anything’ and a couple of other songs via Sea Gayle, which was a publishing company I worked with in town for a long time. I feel blessed that Bart brought in those two songs because they could have been hits for a lot of other people! (laughing)

My two favourites are ‘Jacket On’ and ‘Can Down’. What was it like working with Brandy Clark on ‘Jacket On’?

Brandy is so bad-ass! I obviously knew who she was and was familiar with her work but I hadn’t gotten to know her as a person. I didn’t necessarily know we were going to write that song going into the session, I was just hoping we could write something that captured her vibe and energy. I’m such a fan of hers.

Brandy’s personality shines in that song and it all happened in less than a couple of hours too! Anyone who is familiar with Brandy’s work will listen to that song and hear her in it, for sure. I haven’t spent that much time with her but I hope we get to do another one soon!

The idea behind ‘Can Down’ is genius. Simple but genius.

That one was me and a couple of buddies that I write a lot with, Smith Ahnquist and Brent Anderson. We were drinking beer and we came up with the ‘can down, man down’ thing which we thought was really cool.

When you have a problem or an issue that you need to work through you can get help from friends and family but a lot of the time you need to do some soul searching by yourself to clear your head. That might involve a little drinking, it might not, but you gotta dig deep and think about things all by yourself and that’s what the song is about. The guy is coming to the realisation that it’s not going to work but he’s going to come to that conclusion one beer at a time.

Is there a track on ‘Longcut’ that you love that people like me haven’t asked you enough about? A hidden gem that you’d like to shout about?

Man, so ‘All My Songs’ has become one of my favourite songs. We’ve just added it into the live set recently. I don’t know that it will stay in there forever but people seem to like it. It’s a slower type of song with a real R&B feel to it. Boyz II Men was the first record that I can remember buying as a kid and it’s got a bit of that in it I think. I wrote that one with Lynn Hutton and Jeb Gipson and those are two of my favourite writers. That writing session was so cool and the song means a lot to me – it hits, man, it was one of the first songs I would play people before the album came out and I’m still excited about it now.

I can’t believe your ‘Bad Reputation’ album is nearly nine years old now, the songs have held up so well. The title track could have been lifted from an early Bon Jovi album. Was classic Rock ever an influence on you?

Oh, absolutely! Yeah. I was into stuff like the Eagles, Bob Seeger, Ozzy Osbourne. Bon Jovi was also a regular addition to my mixtapes growing up as well, for sure. Classic Rock has been an influence on me as much, if not more, at times, than Country. I loved Country and 90s Country growing but then as high school came along and college I found myself listening to classic Rock more and then Red Dirt Country as well as I got more into the Texas scene with the live acts that I was seeing.

I try not to be too exclusive in any type of music that I play because I listen to so many different kinds of music. I think it shows when you listen to my music that there are so many different influences in there.

If I could take you back a decade to when you recorded ‘Night Comes Falling’ and let you give yourself a piece of advice, what would you say to yourself?

Man, that’s a good question. Early on I felt recording in the studio was quite a stressful thing because a lot of the pressure to get what we were looking for was just on me and I didn’t necessarily know what I was doing! If I could give myself some advice it would be to stay the course and keep playing but more importantly find and keep good people around you.

I think that has been the thing that has helped me the most. There is not a decision that I’ve made in my career that I’ve made 100% by my self, I’ve always had my girlfriend, my family, my management to confide in. It’s important to surround yourself with good people who have your best interests in mind. I don’t necessarily know that I knew that back then and I was more stressed out by things than I probably should have been so that advice might help!

Another part of the success you’ve had this year was making your stadium debut supporting Morgan Wallen. Did you change your approach to the visuals or the setlist in the stadium compared to what you would normally do?

We did change the setlist. We got given 45 minutes which was longer than I thought we might get, so I was happy about that. We picked our ten best songs and went for it! It’s fun to challenge myself in different environments but playing a stage of that size was a learning curve! There was a giant thrust or runway that came out probably about 50 to 60 feet from the microphone and as soon as I saw that I was pumped but I had never worked a stage like that before.

The stages we usually play are a lot smaller so I can get back to my mic a lot quicker but, one time, I found myself holding the microphone all the way out there and as the song ended I realised I needed to be back on the main stage to play the guitar intro to the next song and I was nowhere near where I needed to be! (laughing) I was like, ‘Oh shit, what am I going to do now! (laughing) Luckily, my guitar player had eyes on me and he played the part to cover me! We all needed to be really in-tune with each other as band up there to make sure everything went right.

You’ve had loads of number ones on Texas Country radio. Now that Parker McCollum and Cody Johnson are having success in Nashville, do you think the labels there are looking west and your way again?

I think the labels are always interested in what’s going on around here but it’s hard to say what they are looking for and who is going to make what work. It’s certainly good to see guys from my part of the world getting some notoriety. Parker and Cody are some of the best in the business, I have so much respect for them and what they do. There are a lot of us from Texas way trying to do the same and getting more and more respect and attention right now, that’s for sure.

I’ve never had any kind of problem or beef with Nashville. I’ve been going back and forth there for years now and have a lot of friends in town. I’m looking to buy a house out there right now so I can continue to build relationships with folks and writers in Nashville – seeing Cody win a CMA last week and Parker doing so well and seeing familiar faces on TV there is really cool.

What’s the pans for next year? Your sons must be just the right age for an international flight over to the UK now, right? (hint – hint)

(laughing) Oh yes!! This past year we took out first plane flight with them – we took them to Disney World and they loved it. They had a great time. I think you’re right, it would be a great thing for the young men of the family to experience an international trip. I know you guys have a big festival in August somewhere that I think might be good for me. (We talk about The Long Road festival for a while, which is what Mike is referring to.) That would be awesome, we definitely need to look into coming over for that. It’s very clear that your part of the world has some massive Country music fans that we need to get in front of.

Mike Ryan’s ‘Longcut’ album is out now. If you want an introductory playlist to what this talented artist can do, here is a taster for you:

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